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De Blasio: NYPD retraining a key to better community relations

Mayor Bill de Blasio, at a press conference

Mayor Bill de Blasio, at a press conference with Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, discusses police retraining at the Police Academy in Queens on Dec. 4, 2014. Credit: Uli Seit

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton sought Thursday to bolster public confidence in their efforts to transform the NYPD's relations with communities amid the fallout from the Eric Garner case.

"The seeds are being planted for a very different reality," de Blasio said at the police academy in College Point, Queens, where a $35 million program is underway to retrain 20,000 members of the department's patrol force and eventually higher-ranking officers.

"There's tremendous resolve here at the NYPD to find a way to draw closer to the community, to do things in a different way, do things in a new way."

The mayor said he and Bratton seek to restore "nobility of policing" through the training.

Officers, sergeants and lieutenants, and members of the NYPD's command and executive staffs will receive three days of instruction that include tactical training, such as safely restraining a person who resists arrest, and communication techniques, such as keeping profane language in check.

Garner, of Staten Island, died in July after being put in an apparent chokehold as police tried to arrest him on a charge of selling untaxed cigarettes. A grand jury decision Wednesday not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in his death has sparked nationwide protests.

The retraining program -- stepped up and expanded amid the uproar over Garner last summer and expected to continue through June -- is among initiatives that include field-testing body cameras, a reduced number of stop-and-frisks, and a policy to issue summonses in lieu of arrests for low-level offenses such as marijuana possession.

All the efforts are designed to improve police relations with minority communities and build mutual respect, de Blasio said.

Asked whether Garner's death could have been avoided if Pantaleo and the officers involved had received such training, de Blasio said he wouldn't discuss "hypotheticals," but added, "I think that tragedies are going to be averted because of this training."

Deputy Commissioner of Training Michael Julian said officers will learn to restrain individuals "in ways that will cause less injuries to them and to police officers."

With improved communication, and an awareness that "ego" and "not being able to control our adrenaline" can lead to bad decisions, there will be fewer situations that require force, First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker said.

Tucker said the emphasis will be "on talking people into compliance as opposed to taking people down."


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